Longitude and the Sea Clock

John F. Bailey describes how all early navigators, until the mid-eighteenth century, were baffled by the problem of longitude in finding their ships’ position.

John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer

Sailing on the world’s oceans was a chancy business from the dawn of history until an unlettered, self-taught carpenter’s son put the means of finding the longitude into the navigator’s hands. 

Rafts, canoes, longboats, galleys, galleons, corsairs, privateers, trading ships and warships, once they sailed out of sight of land, were not able to discover where they were until they sighted land again. Every wave being like another, and the surface of the water being devoid of reference points, it was impossible for a navigator to tell where he was. Thousands of ships were lost on unpredictable coasts together with an unknown number of lives.

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